This has been a Lucy Ashton year for me. I started by reading Walter Scott's "The Bride of Lammermoor" and then I saw the 2003 film of Lucia di Lammermoor, starring Stefania Bonfadelli. Then I went to La Scala Milan to see a live performance with Patrizia Ciofi in the title role. Finally, I saw this French version: Lucie de Lammermoor which is Donizetti's 1839 revision for Paris of the opera that he wrote four years earlier.
This version is directed for Opera Lyon by the prolific duo of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser. I have seen quite a few of their productions and the common thread running through them is that they are cheap. It appears to me that any opera house that is strapped for cash and wants to put on a cheap production calls in Pat and Mo. Occasionally, however, their imagination outstrips their budget and, as in this case, they produce something very effective at a minimal cost. The opera is set on a bare stage with a minimum of scenery, just the odd dead stag. The characters are filmed mostly in close-up with spotlighting against a black backdrop. This produces a pleasing chiaroscuro effect although I suspect it is more effective on film than live on stage.
Apparently two versions of this production were filmed, one starring Patrizia Ciofi and Roberto Alagna and the other starring Natalie Dessay and Sébastian Na. This seems very democratic but it would have made more sense to make just one film with the obvious A-team of Dessay and Alagna. The version I saw was with Dessay and Na. I was eagerly looking forward to hearing Dessay tackle this role because she is currently the world's leading high-note specialist and she gives good mad as anyone who has heard her Ophelia can testify. She is an obvious successor to Callas and Sutherland in these bel canto roles and it is good to see her getting into them. She seems reluctant to sing in any language other than French so maybe this Lucie is a halfway house on her road to tackling Lucia.
What surprised me is that Donizetti's 1839 version is not just a translation, it is a wholesale revision. Some characters are lost, some are merged and the role of Sir Arthur, Lucie's unfortunate husband, has been expanded somewhat so that at least you learn a little about him before she butchers him. Most of these changes to the plot make sense but where I have reservations is in Donizetti's changes to the music. He cuts out much of the coloratura, which admittedly does not work so well in French. Most disastrously he butchers his greatest hit, the mad scene. I was eagerly anticipating Dessay's crazy duet with the flute but it never happens. This is a very moving but also a very subdued mad scene from Dessay. It contrasts strongly with the barking mad performance that Stefania Bonfadelli gives in the 2003 film.
Ludovic Tézier makes an impressive Lord Henry Ashton, both vocally and dramatically. Sadly Sébastian Na as Lucie's lover Edgard is underpowered and chops his vocal lines up, giving the impression that he is singing in Korean. He is fond of facial contortions but Tézier can convey more with just a twitch of the lip.
Watch out for the wedding scene in Act III. Pat and Mo, having splashed out for lots of suits of armour in Act I, find that they can't afford the ball gowns for the women's chorus. So what do they do? They dress the women up in the suits of armour and give them little moustaches and goatees. Unless they really think that is what Scottish women look like.
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